At her blog, film critic Carrie Rickey has a post on her "strangest screening experiences" — though it might be more accurate to describe them as "awkward" screening experiences, since the three stories she shares are all squirmers about watching movies in uncomfortable situations, like seeing "Violette," a flick about parricide, with her parents, or watching the raunchy "Ted" with her 16 year old daughter. And then there's this story from the Toronto Film Festival premiere of "Boogie Nights," where Rickey sat between exhibitor Ray Posel and critic Roger Ebert:
"From the moment porn director Burt Reynolds tells dishwasher Mark Wahlberg that he had a feeling there was something wonderful in the younger man’s trousers waiting to get out, Ray shrank in horror from the screen as Roger inched forward in his seat. It was almost comical. I felt like a seesaw fulcrum balancing them. I couldn’t filter out Ray’s disgust or Roger’s enthusiasm. I didn’t know what I thought of the film. Had to see it a second time in order to review it."
Rickey's post got me thinking about my own awkward screenings. The one that immediately came to mind was a trip to the multiplex about five years ago to see "Knocked Up" with my future wife and parents. What followed was entirely my fault; I'd seen "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and I absolutely adored "Freaks and Geeks," so I had pushed the group to see "Knocked Up" thinking it would be a nerd-friendly affair. Had I known about the rampant drug use and — even worse — surprisingly graphic sex scenes, I might have suggested alternate arrangements. The discomfort hanging in the air was so thick you could cut it with an armrest, which I distinctly remember gripping for dear life throughout the movie. It was a scene of shame and embarrassment worthy of a Judd Apatow film.
Beyond that, I'm not sure I have any other memorably awkward screenings — or maybe I did at some point, but I've since blocked them completely out of my mind in the interest of psychic self-preservation. The "Boogie Nights" story is interesting, though, since it's less about feeling mortified than feeling uncertain about your own reaction to a film as the result of less-than-optimal viewing conditions. That I can relate to.
I've actually written about this experience once before. At South by Southwest 2011, I was in the audience for a midnight screening of "The FP" that began with a cast and crew Four Loko chug race. It was entertaining, but it may have left a couple of its participants too drunk to sit still; one of them proceeded to spend the entire film heckling the screen. It's one thing to watch a movie while someone in the audience rudely insults it; it's something else entirely when that someone actually worked on the movie. If they think so little of their work that they're willing to insult it, how should I feel?
Like Ebert and Posel did to Rickey, that heckler clouded my perceptions. It was hard to separate my thoughts about the interruptions from my thoughts about the movie. "The FP" is a bargain basement spoof of apocalyptic gang movies; the longer the heckling went on, the more I began to wonder whether the real joke was on the audience, rather than the cheesy sci-fi flicks of yesteryear. I'd need to see the movie again to know for sure, at a screening I can promise you will not be catered by Four Loko.
So those are my strange/awkward screenings experiences. Now it's your turn. Share yours in the comments below. Can you top seeing "Knocked Up" with my parents?
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